Erol Himelright Memorial Ride lends a helping hand

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 The Caring Hands at WVU’s NICU

 Judi Polak calmly puts on her sterile gown and gloves and walks into the child’s room.  With just the touch of her hand the child stops crying and relaxes.  Sometimes all an infant going through narcotic withdrawal needs is a touch from a loving hand.

Polak cares for infants in such scenarios on a daily basis.  She is the director of the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Team at West Virginia University’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Morgantown, W.Va.,

WVU’s NICU is one of only three in the state, with the two other NICU’s located in Huntington and Charleston.  WVU’s NICU is located on the sixth floor of Ruby Memorial Hospital and is part of the WVU Children’s Hospital.

“Most babies (in the NICU) are less than 27 weeks old,” Polak said.  “A 22-week-old baby has a 10 percent chance of survival.”

WVU’s NICU is special because it is more likely than other NICU’s in the state to care for premature infants under 27 weeks old and has the equipment to care for them.  WVU’s NICU is also the only NICU in the state that has a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon.

Dr. Robert A. Gustafson is the pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at WVU’s NICU, the only one in the state of West Virginia.  He has been honored with the Children’s Miracle Achievement Award for his service to the state by the Children’s Miracle Network, an international organization that helps raise funding for children’s hospitals around the world.

The NICU holds 39 beds for infants that are born at low birthweight or prematurely, and especially seriously ill infants.  Almost 600 infants are cared for each year, some only staying half a day and others staying for months.  Around 75 percent of the babies born in the NICU have infection of the blood.

“The unit gets approximately three to four babies with complications from narcotics in the unit at a time,” Polak said.  The unit works to provide acute care for babies going through withdrawal from narcotics.  Polak said that the NICU hopes to expand their number of beds in the unit to 50 over the next three years.

“It’s around $1,500 for just a bed in NICU, but 60 percent of families have Medicaid and it’s covered,” Polak said.

“Infants are transported from the entire state of W.Va., western Md. and occasionally Uniontown, Pa.,” Brenda Daugherty, manager of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners, said.  “Most of our infants come from eastern, northern and midcentral W.Va.

About half of the infants in the NICU are born at WVU Hospital while others are transferred via ambulance or helicopter from hospitals within West Virginia and also Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Sixty to seventy percent of infants are transported by ambulance by the Children’s Hospital Transport team, which consists of a transport nurse and a respiratory therapist,” Daugherty said.  “Approximately 30-40 percent of infants are transported by Healthnet (helicopter) with the Healthnet team and a NNP.”

The NICU has so many different types of people working together to care for infants.  Some other important parts to the NICU are the Genetics Department and the Family Support Team.

The NICU Genetics Department specializes in chromosome testing and sometimes performing rare tests to check infants for issues that may not be apparent to the eye.

“It’s team decision-making for the best care,” Polak said.  According to Polak, the team looks for one anomaly and then looks for others in the infants.  These anomalies may be first detected through heart or kidney ultrasound.

The Family Support Team is a special part of the NICU that is comprised of social workers that aim to help parents through crisis and the stress of having a child in the NICU.  This social worker is there for the family through the time of hospitalization, transition home and there for the possibility of an infant death.

Clifton Smith is a Unit Clerk at the NICU and is one of the first people to learn of new cases being admitted to the NICU.  He is responsible for keeping the NICU a safe and effective unit by keeping it locked down and screening visitors before allowing them into the NICU.

“The majority of new admissions are premature births,” said Smith.  “I sometimes have to use my abilities to keep everyone calm.”  Sometimes the moments can be tense for parents or family of an infant that is not healthy.

“I like knowing I’m able to give comfort and reassurance to someone,” said Smith.

For an outsider or someone first seeing the NICU, the machines and monitors around the infants may give the NICU the appearance of a sad atmosphere, but for the workers it’s a positive atmosphere where they work each day to help save children’s lives.

“I love my job and I have worked with infants for 36 years,” said Daugherty.  “The joy of seeing an infant go home is the best part.”




Every Vote Counts for Youth in 2012

“Five…Four…Three…Two…One!”  Young adults gather around the TV in a small apartment in anticipation.  Although one might expect to hear this on New Year’s Eve, that’s not the case here.  No flashing ball of light, no load music, just two men walking on stage.

The first 2012 Presidential Debate was aired on October 3 and the WVU Young Democrats made sure to be together for this event.  This was a house party, but not the usual kind of party you’d expect at WVU; a Debate Watch Party.

Without a doubt, the youth vote in the 2012 election will be important.  So what are college students doing to get involved and ready for the upcoming election?  A poll by Gallup shows that only 58 percent of 18-29 year old voters plan to vote in 2012 compared to 78 percent in the 2008 election.  College organizations such as the WVU Young Democrats are trying to motivate students to vote this year through many events on campus and getting youth active in politics.

Just like the Debate Watch Party, the WVUYDs include entertaining things to their agenda to entice more students to join and have their voices heard in politics.  Outside of their weekly meetings, the WVUYDs have started many activities to get involved in this year’s election.

Members have volunteered to go to classrooms and offers students to sign up to vote if they are not registered yet.  Other events have included volunteer phone banking, campaigning for local Democrats, and even walking in the Homecoming Parade in Morgantown, WV.

The WVUYDs meetings usually last an hour and involve discussing current issues and news that has happened over the week.  The group meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Blackwater Room located in the WVU Mountainlair.

“I’m kind of OCD, so that helps me organize the meetings we have and cover as much business as we can in the hour we have,” George said.

Topics of discussion range from how well Obama’s outlook for the election is to what can be done to aid the Democrat party.  Social media plays a large role in the youth Democrats presence, with plans to create a “Team Obama” Facebook group and also use Twitter hashtags to show support for Obama.

“The student vote can completely swing the election,” Tyler George, President of the WVU Young Democrats, said.  He is currently serving his second year as the president of the WVUYDs.  Prior to running for the president during his junior year, he joined the group as a freshman and also served for 2 years as the parliamentarian of the group.

George, an engineering dual major, says he is planning to attend graduate school in the coming spring semester.  In the event that he decides on a school other than WVU, a new election for president of the WVUYDs will be held.

“I decided to run because I had seen it for 3 years and I knew how things operated, and the pros and cons of what the past presidents had done,” George said.

Over the time George has been part of the WVUYDs, he has seen the number of members fluctuate.  He recalls that at one time there were 40 or more members actively involved.  This semester the number of WVUYDs members has stayed around 20 or 30.

“I came in in 2008 and there was such an energy in the air and everyone was caught up in the hope and change and that was the momentum of the movement, because we just had 8 years of someone else and we wanted something different,” George said, “So a lot of people had their eyes open, were paying attention and very excited.”

Though the number of youth excited for the 2012 election is lower than before, it’s obvious that the youth of the WVUYDs are certainly passionate about it.  The group plans to create events in the coming months to urge students to register to vote on campus and also form a debate team and debate with the WVU College Republicans.  They also will be walking in the WVU Homecoming Parade this month.

WVU Political Science professor Robert DiClerico also agrees that the youth vote will be just important this election as in the 2008 election.  He emphasizes that there are three things about a candidate that make people vote in their favor: their issue positions, how well their leadership skills appear in public, and do I feel they care about me.

So what exactly motivates the average college student to get involved?

For Ryan Loos, a new WVUYDs member, it’s a quite simple answer.

“I’ve been following Obama lately and I’m interested,” Loos said.  He has been following the candidates and current election news and used that to help determine whom he will be casting a vote for.  For Loos, who is 18 and a freshman at WVU, this will be his first time voting in a presidential election.

For every student interested in the election such as Loos, there seems to be another that has an ‘I don’t care’ attitude.

“I think in American we definitely take voting for granted, but that has shifted to people thinking that it doesn’t matter at all,” George said.

Just as the Gallup poll from above details, youth are not as enthusiastic about the election this year.  In today’s youth society one major worry is employment.  A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in August stated that those 16-24 are facing a 17.1 percent unemployment rate.

“I think people often have their personal opinions, but it either doesn’t effect enough of their life to motivate them to get more involved or it’s something they see as, when election time comes, to maybe go out and do your duty to vote,” George said.

In 2008, Barack Obama was greatly aided by the youth vote.  His campaign promised hope and change, but now youth that helped him get elected feel somewhat disappointed according to a CIRCLE poll, forty percent to be exact.  This alone can be contributed to youth not being as involved in the upcoming election.

“It’s not about one vote, it’s about a movement,” George said, “It’s about getting your friends to vote as well.  It’s about being open about it and saying, yeah, I voted; yeah, I believe in this candidate and here’s what they’re going to do for us.”

And one way WVUYDs is getting involved is by supporting Sue Thorn, a Democrat running for Congress in the first district of WV.  George emphasizes that while WV might not weigh in as much with Democratic electoral votes this election, one main reason for the youth to still vote is to get another Democrat elected in Congress and ultimately help out President Obama.

“It really requires that infectious excitement about it,” George said, “Hopefully that starts here and plant seeds; people attend the meetings and then go out and talk to their friends.”

At one WVUYDs meeting, Anthony P. Barill, a Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates running for reelection spoke to students.  He left the group with one important thought that will hopefully motivate the youth to vote this year.

“You are the future.”


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